Back in his high school years, The Genius was fond of cutting class to hang-out and shoot pool with his future band mates. Now fast forward to December 2011, when Harvard invited the Wu-Tang Clan‘s resident rhyme scholar to deliver a lecture at the university. That moment marked the start of a new side-career for the rapper, with another lecture already confirmed to take place within the hallowed halls of Oxford University on January 28th, and discussions taking place to have him address the students and staff of M.I.T., N.Y.U. and Cornell once he’s back on domestic turf.
Up until now, only those who were present at the GZA’s Harvard lecture have been able to witness his debut in the land of academia. But Hive can exclusively reveal that the Genius has now decided to share his wisdom with the world by posting up video footage of the entire speech on his Facebook page. So with hip-hop’s most in-demand intellectual preparing to blaze-trails on the higher-learning lecture circuit, Hive caught up with the GZA to discover the details of his editing-intensive writing process, quiz him on the Wu’s pool playing proficiency, and find out how the albatross flies without flapping its wings.
How do you feel your Harvard lecture went?
It went good. I was first approached to give it about two months before hand. I wouldn’t say I was exactly surprised when they got in touch — I have actually been asked to lectures before — but this was the first one I agreed to. I was honored.
Why did you agree to lecture at Harvard, but not the other places?
Harvard is a great school, you know, so I though it would be good. It’s a great place to start. I didn’t really have the time to do any of the lectures before, so I thought this was great start.
What was the theme of your lecture?
I was speaking about a few different things. It wasn’t just one particular thing. I spoke about my upbringing, my involvement with hip-hop and how I got involved in the music, the early days of the Wu-Tang Clan, and where I get my inspiration from to write certain songs. I talked a lot about my songwriting process, which people are always interested in.
Did you show a version of your lecture to anyone else to get feedback on it before you gave it?
No, I actually didn’t. I’m doing so much and I’m so last minute that I was still preparing it up until about two days before I was meant to give it. I had scratched out a lot of the stuff I was writing and had to start again from the beginning two days before the lecture. So I didn’t really feel inclined to show it to anyone else for their opinion; I just knew what I was going to do.
You’ve performed many live shows, but were you nervous before giving the lecture in public?
Yes, of course I was! I wasn’t really scared, it was just that I felt that I didn’t fully prepare myself for it as best that I should have. By that I mean that I had started all over, as I said, and I had the foundation and knew where I wanted to go, but it was a little last minute. So I was nervous about that for a while. But after the lecture, I’d say the question and answer part with the audience was the easiest part.
You mentioned that the lecture was very broad in topic. Did you have any earlier, more focused ideas for it?
I had a whole bunch of ideas at first but I couldn’t really decide on one. I wouldn’t say they didn’t make it — I just didn’t know which one I should really focus on. So I went with a combination of hip-hop, my upbringing, and the Wu-Tang.
Are there any other rappers you think would be interesting to hear give a lecture?
I’d say any rapper! Any rapper I would think! Hardly any of us do lectures! The only one I know that has done lectures and been doing them for years is KRS-One. Oh, and I just recently heard Bun B has done lectures — about what, I don’t know!
What about other musicians?
Outside of hip-hop, it would be Prince.
Before lecturing at Harvard you were given a tour of M.I.T. What was the most fascinating thing you saw there?
I saw several interesting things: I met with great biologists, astrophysicists, geneticists, oceanographers. It was all exciting and interesting.
It’s been reported that a physicist asked you to name a new virus. Have you decided on a name for it yet?
Not yet, I’m still working on it. They would prefer — but it doesn’t have to be — that it is an acronym, so that requires extra thought and I haven’t really had a chance to sit down and go into it.
Have you had any early ideas on what you’re gonna call the virus?
Yeah, but I can’t tell you yet.
While at M.I.T. you were given a demonstration about how an albatross can fly without moving its wings. How does that work?
It has something to do with the ocean currents and a little bit of wind. It’s very interesting. I haven’t fully grasped the whole concept yet, but it’s very interesting. An albatross can soar around the globe without hardly flapping they wings.
So as a kid did you get good grades at school?
In my very early years, yes, I did. My favorite subjects was science and math. But as I got older I was hanging out cutting class, going to hooky parties.
What did the hooky parties involve?
Beer, smoke, and music.
What sort of music did you listen to at the parties?
A little bit of hip-hop, a lot of R&B. It was just the songs that were out there at the time, like [Secret Weapon's] “Must Be The Music,” [Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five's] “The Message.” I mean, we used to hang out in a spot called The Hut. They had a jukebox in there, we used to play video games, we used to shoot pool. It was near one of the high schools I went to. So we listened to a lot of the music that was really on the radio being played at the time, so R&B and a little bit of hip-hop.
Where was The Hut?
It was on the borderline of Brooklyn and Queens in New York City, on Jamaica Avenue.
You mentioned playing pool. Were you any good?
I think I’m okay; I got a pretty good shot when I concentrate. I like pool. Several of us are quite good. Method Man plays pool, Raekwon is really good. We all shoot pool; we all really average at pool.
If there was a Wu-Tang Clan pool competition, who would you put your money on to win?
Maybe Meth. Yeah, I’d bet on Meth.
Outside of your new lecturing gigs, what else are you working on?
Well I’m working on a couple of scripts, a few scripts: One I’ve been working on for about a year and I’m also doing a pilot. Plus there’s a bunch of projects as far as music goes. I’ve been going back and forth — when I have something for one of them, I put it down.
It’s been reported that one of the scripts is about a rapper having a mid-life crisis. Is that true?
I don’t want to throw that out yet. Once you throw the idea out there it’s out there and I’ve been sitting on it for a while and don’t want someone else to make it.
So what are the music projects you’re putting together?
I’m working on two albums now but I plan to do about three of four in the next two years. These are solo projects. One is a remastering of some rhymes I’ve already released and the other one is brand new.
What’s the concept behind the remastering project?
There’s a special reason. You’ll see.
What’s the writing process for that project like then? Is it a case of going back and revising your old songs?
I’d say the writing process for that one is taking a while. I take a while to write anyway. I use drafts and draft and draft and draft and try and work it out. I usually do about five drafts per rhyme for each song. I probably take about a month to write a song, depending on how much time I can dedicate to it; and it depends on how many hours a day there are, and how many days in a week, and weeks in a month.
Watch GZA’s Harvard lecture on his Facebook page.